Like a lot of longtime New York Islanders fans, I loved John Tonelli. To be sure, I loved the superstars -- the ones in the Hall of Fame today -- but Tonelli's mix of talent and endless effort was the kind that screamed, "THIS is why I love hockey."
So as each dynastic Islander moved on to retirement or new teams in the mid to late '80s, there was no one I wanted to see win another Stanley Cup more than Tonelli. (It's great that Bryan Trottier got two more with Pittsburgh -- forgivable since their run stopped once his career did.)
Tonelli came so close with the Calgary Flames in 1986, but they lost to Montreal in the finals that year. By the time the Flames got a rematch and dispatched the Canadiens in 1989, Tonelli had moved on to the Gretzky-era Los Angeles Kings. He was a big yet unsung part of that franchise's revival, scoring 31 goals twice in his three years as a King.
That makes two franchises that got a lot of good ol' Tonelli production after his previous team thought he was gassed.
But by 1990-91, he probably was gassed. His career was winding down, like fellow dynastic Isles Clark Gillies (Buffalo) and Duane Sutter (Chicago) before him.
But Tonelli did put one more year in. A year I'd completely forgotten about until stumbling upon it the other night: Tonelli played 52 NHL games in 1991-92, split between the Cup finals-bound Chicago Blackhawks (they'd lose to Trottier's Penguins) and the basement-dwelling Quebec Nordiques (who were finishing their Oilers-esque run of first-overall draft picks). Just look at this picture!
Then-Hawks coach Mike Keenan collected former Stanley Cup winners like candy -- did you hear the one about how he tried to lure Denis Potvin out of retirement to the 1994 Rangers? -- so Tonelli's signing in Chicago was in keeping with Keenan's pattern. But by February it was the end of the line for Tonelli, and the Hawks unceremoniously dumped him on the worst team in the league for the proverbial and worthless "future considerations."
Combined with both teams, Tonelli totaled just three goals and 14 points in that, his final season.
(More trivia: This was the same season, and same squad, that acquired Brent Sutter and Brad Lauer from the Islanders for Steve Thomas and Adam Creighton.)
Anyway, the "original J.T." was "the hardest worker I've ever seen," according to Bobby Nystrom and probably hundreds if not thousands of Isles fans. His year as a Hawk and Nordique may be forgotten, but few Isles fans will forget this sequence from 1982, when Tonelli's heroics saved the Isles from upset and kept the dynasty drive alive:
Seriously, this interview and replay segment is vintage Tonelli. His catching his breath, his palpable relief, and his insightful description of the play and of his opponents are all priceless.